WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

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Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

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Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

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This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

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Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

Playing Into Video Games and the Composing Process

My first experience playing a video game started out as being fun, then exploratory, then pitiable. I honestly do not know how old I was when I played Crash Bandicoot (1996) for the  Sony Playstation, but I do remember rage quitting and crying with frustration whenever I troll_8.jpgcould not get passed the second level; I used to have nightmares about the main character Crash dying.  Looking back, I guess my constantly trying to get passed the second level and the subsequent rage quit indicated how
immersed I was in playing the game.

I found Colby and Colby’s (2008) article and Alberti (2008) article interesting because of the recurring topic of play, which I think is the core purpose of a video game. These authors write about play and its application to reading and writing pedagogy.  Alberti seems to lean toward play and reading, but Colby and Colby’s article attracted me the most because of their theories on play and writing pedagogy in particular.

Colby and Colby suggest that “gameplay becomes an important part of the invention process” (310). When I was playing video games, I had to go through lots of discovery, trial, and error in order to build a gameplay learning experience.  In relation to the authors’ aforementioned claim about what gameplay entailed, it occurred to me that part of the invention process when beginning to write something is the playing involved.  That is, students have to formulate, adjust, and go through trial and error with their ideas.  During the process of invention, students are discovering things—what works, what does not, and what needs to be done in order to progress.  While I did not have to go through an invention process, in my conquest to get through the first level of Crash Bandicoot, I had discovered many things: square holes in the ground meant that I had to jump over them to proceed otherwise I would die, boxes held “wumpa fruit” that I could collect and if I collected 100 I could earn an extra life, enemies would be in my way, and I had to time my spins or jump on them in order to kill them or else I would be killed.  While I could have just read through the instructional booklet (I did not do so before playing), now I do not regret it because going in blind allowed me to discover, explore, and fully immerse myself in the game (until I started rage quitting.)  I feel that I had a richer learning experience this way.  I can imagine that “going in blind” in a video game is similar to the state student writers go through when first given an assignment prompt because going in blind forces students to go through  the processes of invention and discovery—they need to play—in order to proceed.  Playing then, in the world video games and composition, is a tool players and students use as a way into the task before them.

Alberti claims that there is a “game of reading and writing” (p.268) and within the game of reading and writing, there has to be some sort of play involved.  Colby and Colby illustrate what it would be like to incorporate WoW in a complex curriculum, and play is definitely involved; in fact, if students who have never played WoW went into this class, they would have to go through an extensive version of my discovery process due to WoW’s immersive world and gameplay.  I cannot really see WoW as the most ideal video game because the complexity of the game’s world almost requires students to be familiar with the game and everything that it entails before the first day of class otherwise precious time will be spent trying to learn the game’s basics.  As future teachers of composition who value diverse content, I wonder, though, what other video games or video game genres besides the MMPORPG could also bring about student (or even teacher) learning experiences that Alberti and Colby and Colby discuss and envision?  Since we would be dealing with different video games, what and how might these other video games shape reading and writing pedagogies in the classroom?

Video Games are Fun, Fun, Fun!

Throughout the course, we discussed how the emergence of new, digital technologies can revolutionize the classroom by changing our pedagogies and enhancing students’ learning.  One of these technologies is video games.  Many teenagers and young adults play video games, so it makes sense to find a way to connect a common, pleasurable activity into the classroom.

However, this is not to say that instructors need to incorporate actual video games into the classroom.  Instead, video games highlight how instructors can change how they approach their teaching and how their students learn.  In What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Gee discusses how many video games have experienced both critical and commercial success by being challenging and long.  In fact, no matter how frustrating or difficult the game can be, gamers still voluntary keep trying until they beat the game.  However, in the classroom, many schools make their curriculums “shorter and simpler” for students, because students do not put in the time and effort to overcome long and challenging situations – which are hallmarks of successful games.  Based on students’ voluntary decision to undergo these challenges, Gee argues that video games contain “good learning principles of learning built into its design” and facilitate “learning in good ways” (3).  Thus, classrooms need to find ways to incorporate these principles into their design. 

One aspect that can be highlighted in the classroom is play.  People play video games, which suggests that participation in this long and challenging medium is pleasurable.  However, the idea of bringing play into the classroom would not be a new experience for students – quite the contrary actually.  Ian Bogost argues that “play” refers to children’s activities (which often involve exploration and discovery) where teachers allowed students to blow “off the necessary” steam that has built up from long stretches of learning or working.  However, as students get older, play disappears.  However, whenever we play video games, the process makes something that is challenging and long both enjoyable and familiar.  It creates an association of childhood pleasure to something challenging; in other words, it allows students to find some pleasure in exploring and making discoveries in the context of a class.

However, incorporating these ideologies are not anything new in education or composition.  While video games are a newer medium that have yet to become a mainstay in classrooms, the idea of incorporating fun, exploration, and discovery are rather old ideas that have disappeared in the classroom. Colby and Colby argue that student-directed assignments under instructor guidance is reminiscent of “the early writing process movement” (306).  During the early writing process, students were encouraged to pick their own assignments, their own genres, and worked individually with the instructor.  However, while I do believe that the expressive ideologies of the early process movement has its merits, I do not argue that this model must displace current pedagogies.  Instead, like Colby and Colby, this ideology must be adapted so students can practice how to use writing in a rhetorical situation, rather than the “expressivist,” “writing-for-the-self” model that was popular during the movement.  Additionally, Colby and Colby argue that classes should be “front-loaded,” in which instructors expose many of the rhetorical tools and strategies early in the course, so students can effectively explore and make discoveries in a meaningful way (306).

This goal of this post was not to give instructors any assignments or bits of curricula that utilizes these ideologies.  I feel that would be a cheap shortcut that does not fully integrate the ideology into our pedagogy.  Instead, the goal was to encourage instructors (or aspiring instructors) to find a way to restructure and rethink how they can encourage students’ learning processes.

Works Cited

Colby, Rebekah Shultz, and Richard Colby. “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 300-312. Web. 6 November 2013.

Gee, James Paul.  What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.”  The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117-140.

WoW and other authentic places for learning

Who says playing an MMORPG in the classroom is a bad thing?  Not the authors of “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom“, that’s for sure.

Colby and Colby’s article discusses how composition teachers might design a class centered around playing (and most crucially writing about) World of Warcraft.  They offer a discussion of how and why students and educators have usually resisted crossover between class and videogames, including the traditional barrier dividing “work” from “play”, various stigmas associated with videogames in general, but also discuss the potential payoffs of bringing something like videogames into writing classrooms.   They say “ideally, writing teachers encourage students to become immersed in their writing and research”, and videogames provide an intensely immersive experience for gamers.  They also say that videogames offer opportunities for “emergent learning” in an authentic and accessible discourse, giving students the feeling that “they have expertise to move beyond what others have written because they are writing for those who are invested in reading the material they produce.”

This, I think is at the heart of what’s different about Colby and Colby’s approach compared to others who see videogames as another kind of “text” students can engage with.  Instead of asking students to think of the game like a novel in a literature class (turning the game into the subject of their analytical essays), they ask students to participate in the very real and established written discourse communities that already exist surrounding the game.   Their writing assignments ask them to create real documents, guides, or other writings for real audiences, and publish them in the appropriate places online.  Whether those documents are in-depth guides to completing a section of the content, or proposals to the game’s developers regarding a missing feature for the game, students know that their writing means something to a wide audience beyond the class.

So, in a nutshell, the classroom becomes a kind of support and staging area for students who then go out and contribute to the conversations happening all around them, as well as a place for them to reflect on their activities and develop meta-knowledge of  their learning and experiences. Pretty cool. 🙂

But WoW isn’t the only way I think teachers could transform their classrooms into authentic learning communities, or give students opportunities to engage in real discourse. Some would argue that this is exactly what most academic classrooms have been trying to get students to do all along: engage in discourse (albeit academic discourse), and contribute to existing real conversations and communities through their writing.   However, the barrier to true entry into academic discourse may seem much too high for students to feel like their contributions matter.  Using something that has a lower barrier to entry (such as video game communities) allows students to practice essentially the same skills scholars use but in a more accessible context.

Classrooms could be designed around a variety of different real and authentic discourses that are student-accessible besides World of Warcraft gamers.  A class could be designed around a specific hobby with a rich online community, or an area of interest or a profession.  Popular culture and media drive the creation of hundreds of active and vibrant discourse communities across the internet (e.g. Breaking Bad fan sites and discussion forums during the airing of the show), any of which could be just as rich in terms of the kinds of conversations and writing practices students could engage in for a class.  A class could even be designed to allow students to select the discourse they plan to participate in during a class and share their assignments with the rest of the class as a way to introduce each other to what they’re focusing on and learn from each other.

In the end, I see Colby and Colby’s article as an example of a classroom whose goal isn’t simply to find a cool way to bring videogames into a classroom. It’s a way to make the classroom real and authentic, and blur the traditional boundaries between “work” and “play”,  “classroom” and “real life”,  and give students a safe place to experiment with writing that actually matters.